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China’s Death-Row Reality Show

By Jonathan Mirsky, New York Review of Books Blog, March 27, 2012

Until it was taken off the air last December, one of the most popular television programs in China’s Henan province, which has a population of 100 million, was “Interviews Before Execution.” The presenter was Ding Yu, a pretty young woman, always carefully dressed with colorful scarves and blouses; in each episode, she would interview on camera a condemned murderer who was about to face a firing squad or a lethal injection.

While Beijing has long been known for its use of capital punishment, the practice has usually been kept out of official media apart from exceptional cases [....]

With Ding Yu’s five years of interviews, however, capital punishment was brought directly into Chinese homes—and with government endorsement. As the BBC explained in its airing of a recent Chinese-made talk show about the program that will soon air on PBS, the channel on which it appeared is supervised by the state; the State Propaganda Department and the judges who handed down the sentences also had to approve each program. The interviews were launched in 2006, and there were over 200 in the program’s five-year run [....]

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Matt Lauer: And here's our own Meredith Vieira with the condemned man.  Meredith?

Vieira: Thanks, Matt. Mr Smith, we were talking before about just how sorry you are.

Smith: Yes, I am so sorry.

Vieira: Well, that's good. And of course, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Smith: Yes, that's right. I should have known better.

Vieira: That's right. Back to you, Matt!

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